When In Catanduanes: Surf Majestics (or at least try to)
When it’s like this, it’s easy to see how the wave came to be known as ‘Majestics.’ Unfortunately (or should it be fortunately?) the waves weren’t like this when we arrived. Source
When you ask a surfer about which are the best surf breaks in the Philippines, you will hear many different responses. For longboarders, they would say the Point or Carille in La Union. Shortboarders would say Cloud 9 in Siargao or Majestics in Catanduanes. And it was to the latter that we were headed last November 2012.
Puraran Surf Resort
Anton, Joseph, Victor, and I arrived at sunset at Puraran Beach, Baras after spending the previous two days touring the neighboring towns (go here to read Anton Diaz’s feature on what Catanduanes has to offer) with the rest of the group. Our eyes were greeted by the sight of a pristine white sand beach. The ocean–blue and inviting–rumbled a distant welcome, as if inviting us to come and play.
Not one to spurn such an invitation (it was why we had made the trip, after all), my brother and I hastily went through the pre-surf rituals: Attaching fins and leashes to surfboards, hastily applying wax, and changing into boardshorts. As we strolled out onto the beach, we were met by a young local surfer who introduced himself as Chris. The usual surf conversation ensued, about tides, rips (currents), surf season (June to October), weather (the typhoons were less frequent), and so on. He led us out to the rocky shoreline, and gave us the low-down on the wave known as Majestic. Below is a guide to aid other first-timers at Majestic as to where to paddle out, paddle in, and what to look out for.
Infographic by Jose Gamboa
We paddled out. The wind was onshore, cold and gusty. The path to the line up was which dotted with rocky outcroppings rising out of the waters, and to the southeast, the shore was flanked by verdant mountains. If Chris hadn’t been there to impart local knowledge, we would have paddled straight towards the peak (where the wave breaks) which would have been a mistake. Majestic is characterized by three things: Heavy barreling waves, jagged crevices at the bottom, and a mighty rip that doesn’t let go once it has you in its clutches. To evade this, instead of going straight towards the peak, one should aim off to its right, and the current will bend your trajectory into a diagonal.
It was low tide, and more than half of the 15 minute paddle to the line up was over shallow water, no more than three feet in depth, my fingers grazing the sharp coral reef below on more than one occasion, a stern reminder that wiping out in these conditions could lead to injury. About fifteen minutes later, we were at what we thought was the line-up (when we got back to shore we were told that we were sitting too far to the right). The Pacific Ocean was heaving, and the waves were choppy, unpredictable. I sat out in the line up with my heart in my throat, there is something eerie about surfing at dusk, in an unfamiliar break, and one with such a reputation as Majestics’. If I were on my own, I would probably not have had the balls to venture out.
Light was fading fast, so we headed back in, hoping for more favorable conditions the following day.
After a delicious dinner (fish, crab, paco (seaweed) salad, and pumpkin soup served in a pumpkin shell), we gathered firewood and built a bonfire out on the beach. We sat beneath the moon and the stars, and basked in the warmth of the crackling fire. We learned that this area is in the typhoon belt, and that the only two resorts in Puraran beach had been washed away during storms, and had to be rebuilt farther and farther from the shore (As of late, the typhoons have not been as frequent; perhaps another tell-tale sign of climate change).
Pumpkin soup in its eco-friendly bowl
The next morning, the wind was still blowing, although to a lesser extent than the day before. An Australian who had immigrated to this paradise hauled out his kite surfing gear. We watched as he skimmed and skipped across the water, back and forth. As the sun rose, the wind looked like it had no plans of dying down, but we were in no mood to wait, as the waves were beckoning to us, their white fingers making come-hither motions in the distance.
This time, my brother and I were accompanied by Chris and several other local surfers. Some of them had boards that had clearly snapped in two and had been repaired. One of them wore a shirt on whose back he had scribbled the word ‘Majestics’ using a marker. Being with the locals made me feel more confident; all one had to do was follow their lead.
That confidence however, was short-lived. At the line up the sets were rolling in from different directions. Due to the wind, the waves were choppy. At times it would close out, forcing you to bail, which would then leave you vulnerable to the next wave in the set. Around, the water was frothing and churning, and when the waved closed, you could see whirlpools where the water was being sucked into the crevices and caverns in the coral reef.
Everyone else seemed oblivious to these dangers, however. I saw Chris catch a wave, and my brother another. People were grinning, having fun. It was infectious. I cheered as someone to my right rode the face of a wave. A set loomed, a local shouted, prompting me to go for it. I pointed the board towards the shore and paddled. When I started to feel the board accelerate, its nose dipping down, I clutched the rails and popped up (which is basically like doing a push up while at the same time drawing one knee to your chest, and popping up to a squatting positing, both feet planted on the board), and I leaned on my heels to turn the board in the direction the wave was traveling. After a few seconds, the ride was over. Exhilarated, I paddled back to the line-up with anticipation.
This combination of fear and excitement is one of the reasons why I go surfing. Rarely are you given the opportunity to conquer your fears and receive immediate reward thereafter.
With Aireen (3rd from left) of Majestic Puraran Beach Resort, and Majestic’s top (and only) surfer chick
The others in our group rented some boards and paddled out into a cove for some lessons. The rest went for a hike in the neighboring mountains. Everyone came back tired, burnt, and happy.
An open window to the rear of the hut reveals a peaceful panorama: Carabao grazing in the midst of rice terraces
After surfing for around six years all over the Philippines, Australia (wetsuits are necessary in the cold waters), and Hong Kong (surprisingly, they have a surf spot over there which works when there’s a typhoon swell), I thought that the Ocean and I were fast becoming good friends, or at least, I was close to becoming familiar with her various moods. I’ve ridden across her surface on kayaks, bangkas, ferries, skis, and all sorts of boards, and explored her depths with the aid of scuba equipment. She’s shown various aspects of her personality: Warm, cold, heaving, glassy, churning, rising, sometimes she is playful, tugging at you mischievously with her undertows and rips. She is often escorted by her faithful companion, The Wind. She can be generous with her waves which are a source of so much happiness for those who know how to ride them. And when she is disturbed by earthquakes, she can be frightening with her tidal waves and tsunamis.
Surfing the wave called Majestic, however, showed me that just when I thought I’d seen it all, the Ocean still manages to give me a rude awakening as to how ignorant and completely at her mercy I was. Getting caught in the powerful current and feeling the wave slam you down to the bottom have a way of driving these points home.
And that was on a small day.
With its majestic surf, uncrowded and pristine white sand beaches, warm and friendly people, Puraran is definitely a destination for those with an adventurous spirit.
This 1988 issue of Surfer Magazine contains a 5 page feature on Majestics and its pioneers
Aside from surfing, our group had many other adventures (like stalled bangkas in the middle of the ocean, delving into unexplored caves, catching crabs, magical waters, meeting a missionary who’s building a water park in the middle of the jungle…by hand, and more) in Catanduanes. You can read more about it on Anton Diaz’s post on Our Awesome Planet.
Thank you to our hosts, Surf & Turf Area 052, the municipal governments of Virac, Bato, and Baras, and most of all, the lovely and welcoming people of Catanduanes.
Manila to Virac
BY LAND: RSL Bus Lines has daily Manila to Virac trips.
BY AIR: Cebu Pacific has flights to Virac on Mondays, Wednesdays and the entire weekend.
BY SEA: From Tabaco City, a ferry boat transports you to Virac or to San Andres Port. Trips are available daily.
Virac to Puraran
Jeepneys and vans are available for hiring at the Virac pier. Trips are between 6 am to 6 pm. From Baras, hop on a tricycle to Puraran. 30-45 minutes travel.
Surf & Turf Area 053: http://www.facebook.com/SurfandTurfArea052
Majestic Puraran Beach Resort: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Majestic-Puraran-Beach-Resort
Puraran Surf Resort: http://www.puraransurf.com